AUGUST 4, 1939
HYDE PARK, Thursday—"Mrs. Roosevelt, it is not for the older people that I am talking to you, it is for the little children that they may have a chance to go to school and to church and grow up different." The big man, Steve Kaslov, stood opposite me in his shirt sleeves. There was dignity in his bearing for he was the head of his particular gypsy tribe. With the aid of Mr. Read Lewis, of the Foreign Language Information Service, a committee has been formed to help these gypsies to ply their trade, not along the roadside, but on a floor at 214, the Bowery, New York City.
I climbed two flights of stairs to find them yesterday. It was a bare place, for they have made their own tools and equipment. They lit a fire and demonstrated then and there how well they knew their trade, retinning for me an old rusty iron tray, and showing me some beautiful iron and copper pots which they had mended. For years the gypsies have been nomads, inheriting secrets of the uses of metals and acids and plying their trade throughout the world. The depression has put many of them on relief, and even the older ones now are willing to settle in one place because they see what it will mean to their children in the future.
If the big hotels and city institutions could be bothered to send to the gypsies many of the things which they now throw away, they would get them back better than new, stronger even than they were before and quite safe to use again for many years. As Mr. Kaslov said to me: "Copper lives forever." The city and state would save, and the gypsies would be self-supporting as they want to be.
Some people think of the gypsies as being thieves and kidnappers, and I suppose there was some justification for this in the past.
In any case, the legend has always made meeting the gypsies a somewhat exciting experience, but that is over now. They have come up against the law many times and often found it hard to get justice. They are a sad people and a minority group I feel we should try to help. I hope that many people will find their way with things to be mended to that bare loft down on the Bowery.
It was a little bit cooler yesterday in New York City and I managed to do a number of things. However, while I went around the city I kept thinking of a celebration which took place last week. Every now and then I would come to a playground filled with children. What a contrast to the crowded streets of my youth, which were the only playgrounds for children in slum areas of that time.
Last week, on July 28th, the recreational authorities under the leadership of the National Recreation Association celebrated the second national Joseph Lee Day, in memory of the "father of the playground movement." He devoted nearly fifty years of his life and much of his fortune to the cause of recreation for young people, which is almost as important as food, housing, medical care and schooling. Therefore, the use of this day to call the attention of the public to the recreation movement and to keep Joseph Lee's memory green seems to me an occasion worth remembering.